`Eyeless babies' case goes to US

BRITISH PARENTS of children born without eyes have been given approval to bring their claims for damages in the American courts. About 140 families in the UK are likely to benefit directly from the decision, which was described last night as a watershed in international personal injury law.

All the families claim their babies were born without eyes or had microscopic eye deformities, where the eyes are the size of pinpricks, because the mothers were exposed to garden fungicide sprays or crop pesticides.

The Delaware court judgment will open the floodgates for thousands of litigants who suffered personal injury in the UK but want to take advantage of the more generous payouts in the American courts. American courts also have wider rules for forcing companies to disclose documents.

The UK parents, in what has become known as the "eyeless babies case" say a garden fungicide and crop spray containing Benlate, manufactured by the American company, DuPont, contained harmful chemicals that injured foetuses. Some mothers are part-time gardeners who spent part of their pregnancies tending their gardens and vegetable patches. The fungicide spray, now withdrawn from over-the-counter sale, was designed to prevent mould and fungus on fruits and vegetables.

The families took years to find a possible connection between the fungicides and pesticides and their children's deformities. Some families tried to bring legal action in the English and Scottish courts, in the jurisdiction of the alleged injury, but ran into difficulties.

Peter Attenborough from Newburgh in Fife, whose son Jonathan, 8, was born with microscopic eyes, failed in his attempt to have his case brought in Scotland.

"DuPont objected to the Scottish Legal Aid Board," he said. "We were told they had submitted two `not insubstantial booklets' to the Scottish Legal Aid Board outlining their objections. If we wanted to see them we had to sign a waiver saying that we wouldn't use the information in the main action. We refused."

Mr Attenborough is a spokesman for the 40 Scottish families affected by the Delaware decision.

Another case brought by an English family, Chris and Maggie and Bourne, advised by the London law firm Russell Jones & Walker, has been given the go-ahead in West Virginia on 25 October, the first case to be brought against DuPont by a UK family. DuPont denies liability in all cases.

Maggie and Chris Bourne, from Frinton, Essex, did not even know it was physically possible babies could be born without eyes. "After Andrew was born the nurse took him away," said Mrs Bourne. "When she came back she said she was sorry but he had been born without eyes. What she was saying was so shocking I didn't believe her. It sounded so alien." For 12 years, since the birth of Andrew, who has to attend a special school in Kent, the Bournes have been trying to find out what had caused the condition, known as anophthalmia.

Five years ago they discovered American families had brought cases against DuPont for a similar condition allegedly caused by exposure to a DuPont chemical agricultural spray. They won legal aid in this country but their barrister said there would be problems of evidence in a UK court. Then they started trying to have the case heard in America.

"I gardened a lot when I was pregnant with Andrew," said Mrs Bourne. "I used the spray to stop my vegetables and fruit getting fungus and mould."

The Bournes' action is a test case for many other families in the UK intending to sue DuPont. "All actions rest on us which is quite a responsibility for us and for Andrew," his mother said.

A previous decision by a Delaware court had found in favour of DuPont, which had blocked the families' case on the basis that Britain would be a more appropriate forum to hear the case because that was were the "alleged activities took place".

But the Delaware Appellate Court ruled: "The fact that the plaintiffs are foreign does not deprive them of the presumption that their choice of forum should be respected."

Alan Care, litigation executive at Russell Jones & Walker, said: "We have fought this case for years and the Delaware court's decision is a significant breakthrough."

His firm represents 100 families who believe their children's deformities are linked to DuPont chemicals.

Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform